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Is it really possible to have a successful, profitable veterinary practice?

Posted in Operations @ Feb 18th 2016 - By Dr Diederik Gelderman, Turbo Charge Your Veterinary Practice
Veterinary Practice Success Is It Possible

Ok, grab a coffee, this post is longer than normal but it's worth it, trust me.

I read a few blog posts this week that seemed to be full of doom and gloom about the state of the veterinary industry. And it got me thinking - are things really as bad as many are saying? (well, unfortunately for many, yes they are) and does it have to be this way? So I emailed Dr Gelderman and asked his opinion...and this is what he said....

Is This Really Possible in Modern Vet……

A subscriber (let’s call her ‘Judy’ (JG: yeah, that's me!), emailed me this question this week….

“Is it really possible to have a successful veterinary practice - or is it IMPOSSIBLE?”

“What does a practice owner have to do to have a successful, profitable practice, be able to give their staff fair wages, not work crazy hours, have a fair work environment which encourages a good work/life balance, which supports their staff and does not promote ‘burnout’ and mental health issues?”

You know what Judy – it’s NOT a dream and it’s totally possible and simple to do. Mind you, simple and easy are not the same thing…..

The simple fact is that good veterinary medicine is profitable!

So when you;

  1. Define your market niche and practice model,

  2. Determine who is your ideal client and patient and treat them appropriately,

  3. Act as the pet advocate within that niche and

  4. Charge a ‘fair’ fee for what you do,


……you’ll be successful, profitable (which means you can do all those things in that question above) and most importantly, you’ll smile a lot!


Let’s examine those four items…..

1. Determine your market niche and practice model

Most Veterinarians NEVER work out their market niche. Practices with a narrow and a deep niche are the most profitable and the happiest.

There are seven different practice models that you could use. They range from high-touch, high-tech through to low-touch, low-tech.

Most practice owners NEVER think through what their ideal model, their preferred practice model should be and therefore 80% of practices compete on or in the ‘middle-ground’ of moderate-touch, moderate-tech. THIS middle ground is where ALL the competition is and so there is a fierce pressure on price here.

Most practices (85% is the number shown in recent surveys) PERCEIVE that their (unique) differentiator is ‘Better Service’. Just do the maths on that one!

To the pet owner, consumer, ALL these middle-ground practices look the same, do the same, service the same, answer the phone the same, in fact ARE the same.

So what do you do when there is no differentiation from your service provider (irrespective of whether that provider is a hair-dresser, nails salon, bottle shop, retailer, motor mechanic or Veterinarian) – YEP that’s right, you shop on PRICE – whether that be in a bricks and mortar sense or an on-line/internet sense.

Note: that of these 7 different practice models, there is no WRONG model no ‘incorrect’ one. Each model is valid in its own right and there is client demand for each of them.

However, some models are more or less profitable than others and have far more or less competition.

The models that are by FAR and away the most profitable and in which there is far less competition are the models at the two extremes; high-touch high-tech and low-touch low-tech.

My personal preferred model is high-touch high-tech or moderate-tech model. There is not much competition in these arenas either.

Most practitioners reading this will think that they have a high-touch model and therefore will be wondering why they are not more profitable than they are. The fact is that what we think is high-touch in Vet is plain downright ‘average’ or in fact low-touch in most other service industries.

Vet is one of the poorest customer service industries there is – especially in Australia. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s well recorded in studies done by companies like IbisWorld.

This leads us to the next point – which melds in with the idea of ‘niching’ your practice

2. Determine who your ideal client (and patient) is and treat them appropriately

As you know, practice is always the most fun and rewarding when you are working with those specific clients and patients that you truly love. 

However, most start-up practices, in order to grow as quickly as possible, try to attract any and all clients/patients and try to be everything to everyone to make this initial growth happen. And that model never gets revisited and never changes. So ultimately those clients that we love only ever form a small proportion of the clients we see on a daily basis.

This philosophy is a great way of growing the practice – initially – but it’s not a good long-term strategy for a healthy, happy and profitable practice and lifestyle.

Some practices may eventually shed their breeder clients or their exotic or bird clients or their greyhound clients, etc. However, if truth be told, they continue to do a little bit of everything for everyone and really get known for nothing by all of them. And continue to work with many different clients, some of whom they would rather not deal with.

It doesn’t have to be like that….

Working with the clients (and patients) that you love will have you JUMPING out of bed every morning, rather than reluctantly dragging yourself out of bed to go to work.

The clients that you love to work with and those that love you in return believe that you, your practice is ‘famous’ for something. So a question I often ask of practitioners is;

“What are you famous for?”

Until you are FAMOUS for something (something that is important to and for your ideal client) and stand for something, you’re not likely to achieve that desired outcome in the opening question and you’ll continue to work with all sorts of Tom, Harrys, Emma and Jane who really mean very little to you and vice versa.

3. Act as the pet advocate within that niche

When you ARE the pet advocate and act as the pet advocate – within the ‘restraints’ (budget, time, beliefs, etc.) as determined by your client, then you’ll achieve the best outcomes for your patient, client and ultimately yourself and your practice.

Acting as the patient advocate is firstly all about developing and having standards of care around;

  • pain management,
  • senior care,
  • wellness,
  • ental disease,
  • arthritis,
  • pet insurance, etc. and even
  • client service.

And then secondly about ‘seeing’ what’s in-front of you, then treating what’s in front of you and communicating that need (to treat what’s there) to your client.

When you are in ‘that’ niche, when you are working with your ‘ideal’ client, then this process is simple and easy.

When you are not working within your niche and when you’re not working with your ideal client, then this conversation (and subsequent actioning) can be difficult and sometimes impossible.

4. Charge a ‘fair’ fee for what you do

Let’s face it – 30% of Veterinary clients want the cheapest price – have always wanted it and always will! Studies supporting this go back to the BSAVA study of 1972.

But are these clients YOUR clients (or rather – are they your ideal client)?

The good news is that this means that 70% of clients do NOT want the cheapest price – they want VALUE.

Look up what ‘Value’ means on the internet and you’ll see that it is a mix of; service, quality, convenience, care, price and MANY other things.

When you are working with your ideal client in your niche, then you’ll easily be able to supply them with the VALUE that THEY want and at a price that’s ‘fair’.

By ‘fair’, I mean fair to them, to the pet, to the employees in your practice and to you. ‘Fair’ doesn’t mean cheap and it doesn’t mean expensive. ‘Fair’ means different things to different people.

People who buy Armani, Gucci, Omega (watches), BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, etc., don’t feel ‘ripped-off’ or that these prices are ‘unfair’. They believe that they are receiving true value with and for their purchase.

However people that do not see the value in these brands, do not buy them, they buy what seems of ‘value’ to them. Charging this fair fee to your client, will allow you and your practice to become truly profitable and for you to have the lifestyle that you seek and deserve.

So Judy – that’s your answer!

Is this easy to achieve – NO – not at all.

It takes gumption and determination, ‘balls’ as it were to step away from the paradigm, the model that’s used by 80% of the veterinary practices on the planet.

But then Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc. didn’t become successful by doing what the majority did – they became successful by doing something different to the norm.

There are 20% of practices out there that have this level of success.

Is it simple to do? Yes it is! Is it easy? No – it is not! Is it doable? Yes – absolutely!!

Bite the bullet, makes the changes you need to, hold your course and success will come – what’s important also – it’ll happen a LOT sooner than you think.

So what are you waiting for? Feel free to ask Diederik any questions you may have to help you put your veterinary practice in the 20% category - just add them into the comments section below!

About Diederik

Guest blogger, Dr. Gelderman is a certified NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer. He began coaching veterinary professionals with his Turbo Charge Your Veterinary Practice seminar, in 2004, to a small group of associates. In 2009, the seminars expanding internationally to Hong Kong, NZ, Europe and the US.

Dr. Gelderman has coached and consulted with more than 350 Small to Medium Enterprises in a diverse range of industries. For more information visit 'Turbo Charge Your Practice'.

Click here to visit the Turbo Charge Your Practice Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory


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